One of the most debilitating injuries a caregiver can face is a back injury. You are already under great stress in taking good care of your loved one, and it often involves lifting, turning, moving, or supporting them in transit (not to mention lifting equipment such as a wheelchair, walker, etc.) in and out of vehicles or transfers from bed to chair or shower. In light of this, it makes perfect sense to strengthen your back as much as possible and protect it against injury. Yoga is one of the most useful practices for this particular need. And it has excellent side benefits of relaxation, stress relief, and promoting a sense of wellbeing.
Many of the stretches and postures used in yoga can help to keep the back supple and strong. There are many excellent videos available if you just don't have time to spare for a class, or can't get coverage to be away for that time. (There really is no substitute for a good yoga teacher and class, but a video is certainly better than not protecting your back at all!!)
The video that I found most useful is one by Rodney Yee, entitled: Yoga for Back Care. It is available on DVD from Gaiam.com at the following link: Yoga for Back Care
There are also several other products you might find helpful. One is created by the Mayo Clinic, also available at Gaiam.com. Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Back Pain
It is crucial to find a method of stress relief and body care that feels good, is right for you, and works -- so that you will be encouraged to keep doing it. For me, that is yoga. Try one of these, or some other yoga video or class, if that's more appealing. Just do something proactive today for your own health, wellness and stress relief.
I have shared a number of things through this blog, including practical tips & suggestions, creative ideas, books, music and links, silliness and coping strategies, along with my own experiences and insights. But this particular post is probably the single most important information I can impart to you, the caregiver, because it empowers you to profoundly change your own experience of the caregiving role, reducing your stress, and even achieving the best interaction possible between you, family members, and all those along the journey with you. It is powerful. It works. And I highly encourage you to try it.
The "it" I am speaking of is creative visualization. If you have no experience in this area, fear not! It is an easy, perfectly acceptable and highly positive tool to use, for your own wellbeing and that of your loved ones.
One of the very most damaging aspects of caregiving, is the constant anxiety because of the pressure on you to make the best decisions -- not only for yourself and family, but for your loved one as well -- made all the more difficult because often there is no clear answer and lots of conflicting needs. The negative impacts of stress and anxiety on caregivers is only now truly coming to light through long term research and it is very alarming. That's why I want to share this tool with you and encourage you to use it whenever you need it.
Creative visualization exercise: Sit comfortably in a room where you won't be disturbed for a few minutes. Breathe deeply, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth for three slow breaths. Close your eyes and consciously relax your shoulders and neck, moving a bit if that feels good. Now, begin to imagine whatever situation or decision is causing you anxiety, but see it in completely positive ways, being resolved for everyone's highest good, seeing those involved as smiling and cooperative, helpful and happy (including the person for whom you are caring). See the people interacting in supportive, loving ways. See and feel yourself smiling and relaxed as you give love and care, and receive help and gratitude. Create as much vivid detail and emotional power as possible in the images, keeping everything positive, smooth and flowing. If you can't see the best outcome, you can simply visualize everyone involved as happy and cooperative. Stay with it for a few minutes, until you feel "complete". Then, release the situation, affirm that it is so, and wait in full expectation of a positive outcome. If you practice a faith tradition, you can also add a prayer for your visualization to be accomplished. Not beseeching, but affirming. I think people should be more like cats and ask for what they want in no uncertain terms.
Now, I know there are skeptics out there who think this is rubbish. But I simply challenge you to suspend your disbelief long enough to try it. There is no harm that can come of deep breathing, relaxing and using your imagination for a positive outcome. And, athletes have long known the power of positive visualization in enhancing their performance and decreasing anxiety. It's well documented that the body and mind benefit just as thoroughly from a mental/emotional rehearsal as from an actual, physical one. It is a way of psyching oneself, building your deep convictions and purpose, seeing the desired outcome, and it works. I have used this tool in my professional career quite often, and benefit greatly from its use. I did so with caregiving also, but to a lesser degree, since exhaustion can play havoc with one's positive, sunny outlook on life. That's why I encourage the use of this technique from the very beginning of the caregiver's role. It can make a tremendous difference, to you and to those around you. You can use this practice for your own health and wellbeing, that of your loved one, or any specific situation which is causing you anxious moments and stress.
If you wish, you can enhance the visualization experience with some soft, gentle relaxing music, soft lighting, anything that helps you "shift" your conscious mind away from worry and toward positive transformation of the situation.
I would really love to hear of your experiences with visualization. Or answer any questions about it that may come to you. Please feel free to comment and know that I will respond.
I just came across a really excellent website, with a tremendous wealth of resources for caregivers. It is www.caring.com and it features the trademarked subheading: You're there for them. We're here for you!, which I think really says it all.
The article that caught my attention initially is one titled, "Five 10-minute pick-me-ups for Caregiver Stress", which has some great suggestions for quick stress relief. There are also some 5-minute pick me ups, if you are pressed for time :)
Their site map headings include Senior Housing, Caregiving at Home, Health A-Z, Money & Legal, Cargiver Wellness, and My Caring (your personalized info and logon) . Some of these topics have already been featured in this blog, some are new, all are good ideas. So, happy exploring! This site has a great deal of depth, and a huge range of caregiver issues, so it will take you a while to investigate all it has to offer. I've signed up for their email newsletter, so will keep you posted as to how good that is, as well.
Caregiving is hard work, no question. But there are also incredibly special, richly rewarding moments to be experienced in this role, as it is a gift of love from one human being to another. I'm going to propose something you may initially resist--giving thanks. Yes, I can hear your protest (accompanied by an eye rolling sigh of exasperation, perhaps?) as you say, "You've got to be kidding! What do I have to be thankful for????" Well, I'm going to ask you to answer that very question. In detail. In writing. Daily.
This is not a new idea, as many of the great masters throughout the ages have known and shared the power of gratitude. German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart even went so far as to say, "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'Thank You', that would suffice."
You can keep it very simple. Author Sarah Ban Breathnach, in her landmark book Simple Abundance: a Daybook of Comfort and Joy listed gratitude as the first & most important skill needed-- bedrock of the path to creating simple abundance and excavating the authentic self. She suggests creating a Gratitude Journal to record five things for which you are grateful every night, as you go to bed. I've used this tool and found it very helpful in shifting my focus from what I may feel I'm lacking, to what I already have. It is not easy, sometimes, to find even five things for which to offer thanks, when you are enduring the grueling demands of a family caregiver, but if you can open your heart to listen for the whispers of gratitude, you will find it can shift your perspective more powerfully and surely than almost anything else you can do. The shift in focus from negative, exhausted, lacking, hopeless to positive, possibility, contentment and even quiet joy can happen in an instant. It requires your willingness to reexamine life and let the light of gratitude shine in. If you are willing, really amazing, even miraculous things can happen. Try using a Gratitude Journal for a fixed period of time -- say one month. Let your conscious mind be open to a change to a happier outlook. There are always things in your life for which to be grateful. I had a short list that I fell back upon when my tired mind couldn't conjure anything else. Here it is: a loving husband and soulmate, my wonderful friends, my health, hot showers, my purring cats. Those were my constants. If nothing else, you can be grateful that a day is over and you get to rest!
If you can carve out more than five minutes, start a Gratitude Master List. I came up with over 150 things for which I am grateful, in no time at all. It really does shift your thinking and "being" into a much better place. Really. Try it for yourself.
There are tons of studies about the effects of caffeine on human health and psyche and you can prove or disprove almost anything if you find the right one to support your position. But I tend to believe in my own intuitive being that caffeine will ultimately be proven beyond any doubt to be good, in moderation. One of the most recent studies I came across looked particularly at the effect of caffeine on the brains of older adults, ages 65 - 88, found that those with higher blood levels of caffeine avoided onset of Alzheimer's during the 2-4 years of the study. Granted, this was a small test group of 124 people, but there was also a similar study done in 2006 on 400,000 Alzheimer mice that showed very strong correlation with the blood levels of caffeine creating protective benefit from a whole host of diseases!
This is potentially great news for the estimated 10 million Americans who are in one of the stages of Alzheimer's (using the newly expanded definition which includes mild cognitive impairment). Caffeine certainly isn't a cure, but it is nice to know you can enjoy a morning cup of coffee and feel you are doing something good for your health!
Here's the detailed report on the study titled "High Blood Caffeine Levels in Older Adults Linked to Avoidance of Alzheimer's Disease" found in Science Daily from June 4, 2012.
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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